The name Donald Francis Tovey (always rather pompously in full) used to typify, before career musicology swept all before it, the broadly cultured rather than narrowly scholarly writer on music, sometimes browbeating and always unashamedly didactic, avid to improve his readers' minds, popularising without condescension or dumbing down.
He had begun as a pianist of outstanding gifts in an alternative late 19th-century tradition of high seriousness as opposed to bravura; and remained all his life an aspiring composer, keeping up mainstream Teutonic forms, procedures and idioms with Quixotic ardour, in a world eroded (as he saw it) by feckless and meretricious experimentation. But he was best known in his lifetime and after for the seven volumes of programme notes, preponderantly on standard classics, six of which were published from 1935 onwards as Essays in Musical Analysis; the seventh was on Chamber Music. These notes range from elaborate early pieces (whose mandarin density caused resentment or mockery at the time), written as much to inform taste as to introduce the works in his own youthful London concerts, to casual affairs dashed off for the orchestral seasons given mainly under his own baton with the band he founded on taking up the Chair of music at Edinburgh in 1914.
LRB 8 August 2002 | PDF Download